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I enjoyed both the variety and the content of this well-written collection of biographical tales of the past. The historical context of each subject is not given in much depth, but the facets of each story intrigue, and the different characters, the saints, the scallywags and those in between, shine through clearly.
War or Christian strife of one kind or another is the background to many of the tales. Among the interesting characters who feature, I was especially taken with the Great War artist who refused to fight and, in contrast, with the heroic soldier of the Second World War who was unable to adapt to peace.
The lives of an early Virginian colonist and of a Victorian missionary in India are revealed showing the immense scale of the tasks that such dynamic men undertook, both with surprising success in view of the obstacles they faced. Two stories recall events when British/Indian soldiers were fighting in the Helmand province during the Afghan wars of the 19th century. The final one includes dramatic first hand accounts of a British defeat and explains the reasons for it.
The book is lavishly illustrated throughout and I liked the well-chosen quotations which precede each story. A fine historical miscellany, it gives a vivid picture of some remarkable individuals from our common past.
This collection of historical tales ranges across a wide spectrum of time and place. Each was unearthed during research inspired by the author’s grandmother in India. The stories are biographical with the leading characters shown in conflict situations or facing critical moments in their lives. The first one tells of the surprising origins and sad effects of the martyrdom of a Catholic priest in Elizabethan Cornwall. Two stories follow describing the actions of cousins who were on opposing sides during the Civil War. These and the tale of a deceitful lawyer contrast interestingly with one about a conscience-stricken artist who refused to fight in the Great War. Then there is the story of a Scottish missionary who, after labouring for fifty years in 19th century India, suffered ridicule and vilification from his colleagues. The backgrounds to other stories include rebellion in Ireland, the building of colonial Virginia, the character of an Irish war hero, and the two Afghan wars of the 19th century.
Overall the variety of short tales, each with a distinct slant on some thought-provoking character from our history, and prefaced by some evocative quotations, make this a fascinating book to dip into.